Justice Minister Andrew Little caught off guard as New Zealand First hints at abortion referendum

The Justice Minister has been thrown a massive curveball from Winston Peters who is hinting New Zealand First may only support the abortion law reforms if it's decided by a binding referendum.

Andrew Little, the Justice Minister, was caught off guard on Tuesday, when asked if New Zealand First is calling for a referendum on the proposed reforms. 

He said he wasn't aware the party was seeking that. 

But New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell said it's something the party "believes should probably be a binding referendum issue". 

New Zealand First has already stalled the abortion reform legislation during months of protracted negotiations, and they've now blindsided the Justice Minister.   

The coalition partner party did not once raise the prospect of a referendum during the negotiations. 

When asked if he considered it bad faith, the Justice Minister said: "It hasn't been raised with me before - people can draw their own conclusions."

Peters, leader of New Zealand First, insisted his party does not act in bad faith. 

But Little said in all the "extensive discussions" he's had on the proposed abortion legislation, the prospect of a referendum has never been raised with him. 

Peters said it's not part of the party's coalition agreement with Labour "in any way, shape or form". He said the Justice Minister should have seen it coming. 

"Referendums are what New Zealand First has stood for...when it comes to conscience issues."

When asked why the party didn't raise it with Little earlier, he said: "We don't have to raise it earlier - everybody that's been dealing with us knows that."

It seems even the New Zealand First MP negotiating with Little, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, wasn't informed by her boss.

"It had never been discussed with me or by the New Zealand First caucus itself during those negotiations, therefore it was never raised with Andrew Little during those negotiations," she said. 

But when asked if her caucus blindsided her, Martin replied: "No."

The minister refused to comment on whether she felt a referendum on the abortion law reform was necessary. 

The Justice Minister used Parliament on Tuesday to make the point he has "no plans to organize any referendum other than the one on cannabis".